The Royal Cambodian Air Force will start to take delivery of 12 Chinese-made military helicopters from April next year to be used for “humanitarian” purposes and defending Cambodian airspace, an official said yesterday.
Air Force Commander Lieutenant General Soeung Samnang said that the arrival of the Z-9 military utility helicopter was announced during an annual military meeting held in Phnom Penh on Tuesday.
“Air Force bases will get 12 brand-new helicopters from China next year between April and August,” Lt. Gen. Samnang said.
“They are for helping the nation if it meets with disaster like flooding, or for taking food supplies to remote areas in emergencies,” he said, adding that the delivery was much needed to replace the Air Force’s aging fleet of Russian-made Mi-8 and Mi-17 helicopters.
The Z-9 helicopter is a multiuse aircraft, but can be fitted with hi-tech weaponry for combat.
In August 2011, Prime Minister Hun Sen signed a deal with then-Chinese Politburo Standing Committee member Zhou Yongkang to loan $195.5 million from China to pay for an unknown number of Chinese-made helicopters.
Lt. Gen. Samnang declined to say how much the military helicopters had cost, but said it was part of a deal done between the Chinese and Cambodian governments last year.
The helicopter deal signed by Mr. Hun Sen came alongside a raft of promised loans, grants and trade from China, which in recent years has made Beijing Phnom Penh’s biggest patron. At the time, officials would not disclose the number of helicopters purchased or the terms of the loan.
The Z-9 is built under license by China’s Harbin Aircraft Manufacturing Corporation and is based on the French-made Eurocopter Dauphin helicopter. Armed versions are reportedly in use by the Chinese People’s Liberation Army and the Pakistani military.
The website of the Harbin Aircraft Manufacturing Corporation, which says the aircraft has 10 to 14 seats, describes only the chopper’s non-offensive applications.
“After suitable optional equipment are installed, Z-9 helicopter can be used for passenger/cargo transportation, offshore support, rescue, fire extinguishing, aerial photography, sea patrol, research and rescue, forest protection, outside suspension, law enforcement, drugs and smuggling suppression,” the website says.
(Additional reporting by Simon Lewis)